Crackling with wit and boasting an almost perfectly calibrated heartbreak-to-romance ratio, Graeme Simsion’s delightful debut, The Rosie Project, joins ranks with the best romantic comedies of our age.
Though he is a professor of genetics by trade, you might say Don Tillman’s “passion” – if a word like “passion” could ever be applied to a guy like Don – is efficiency. His days are carefully scheduled to ensure the utmost net benefit in work, exercise, nutrition and even pleasure, including a moderate daily alcohol allowance to accommodate his enjoyment of fine wines.
Dan’s hyperconscious routine is comforting, and strangely alluring to read about. But Don also knows that his ultimate health and happiness will suffer if he is to spend his whole life alone with these quotidian pursuits; and at 39, time is of the essence.
“The Wife Project,” Don’s data-collection approach to finding a compatible mate, thus commences, with Don handing out surveys to every woman he meets in order to gauge her long-term desirability based on factors such as vegetarianism, smoking and mathematics ability.
It becomes clear early in The Rosie Project that Don is on the autism spectrum, and cheerfully so.
This in and of itself – a novel that refuses to demonize, pathologize or victimize those with Asperger’s or autism – is so refreshing that immediately the chapters start flying by, each one skillfully constructed to bring the reader into Don’s realm of perfect, peaceful rationality.
Don’s understanding of the world is purely literal, and this results in a steady stream of humorous exchanges that highlight what a dreadful minefield human interaction can be.
Even more so when Don meets Rosie, a young bartender who quickly reveals herself to be absolutely unqualified to be Don’s eventual wife, and yet the two become friends anyway.
Rosie enlists Don to solve her own genetic mystery (she’s learned her father isn’t really her father), and the ever-problem-solving Don readily helps, despite knowing that he has nothing to gain professionally or romantically. Don’s realization that he enjoys Rosie’s company for its own sake is the first of many touching moments in The Rosie Project.
Rosie begins to take up much of Don’s time, giving him enough data to prove a principle he hadn’t ever thought to test: New experiences – baseball games, dining al fresco, slinging cocktails behind an oak bar, chatting to a pretty woman about nothing in particular – often reap great rewards, for unquantifiable reasons.
It’s not that Don didn’t have feelings before Rosie. Simsion’s greatest victory in The Rosie Project is making us understand how Don feels those feelings differently than those around him, in some ways even more deeply, terrifyingly or exultantly.
A scholar at heart, Don makes himself a student of human non-verbal communication, of nuance, of underlying meaning, in order to find not just friendship but love.
His eventual success makes for a humbling reading experience.
After all, if Don Tillman can find the way to Rosie’s heart (as is obviously going to happen from Rosie’s first scene), shouldn’t we all be brave enough to attempt overcoming the misunderstandings between us?
Lucy Silag is the author of the Beautiful Americans novels for young adults